The day after Hurricane Irene hit we had no electricity (we had no electricity for days, actually, but we shall not speak of that). It turned out that a downed transformer just around the corner was culprit. Other than that, there was minimal damage to our neighborhood, and since school was not yet in session, it was a pretty typical summer day. For my three oldest, a typical summer day includes the new-found freedom to travel short distances to neighbors’ houses. We moms have a comfortable system in place that allows our little ones to experience that freedom without giving us premature grays. So that day, my kids spent the afternoon down the street playing with their friends. It was an uneventful afternoon – or so I thought.
The next day, over lunch, they began talking about the downed transformer, the size of the tree that had fallen into it, and the wires all over the ground – things they should not have been able to see from a neighbor’s house. When I probed a bit, they explained that they went out the backyard fence of yesterday’s playmates and traveled to the next street over in order to catch a glimpse of the only bit of devastation handy (like any self-respecting kids, they’d been terribly disappointed that Irene’s worst had not been nearly grand enough – particularly on our street, which was basically untouched).
“How did you see all the downed wires?” I inquired. They innocently informed me that they’d had to pick their way past them in order to reach the site where the tree had triumphed over the transformer. Mind you, that road was blocked off with signs warning “live downed wires”. So you won’t be surprised to hear that I pretty much promptly had a stroke.
“You did what???” I squeaked, having regained my powers of speech, but just barely. “Was Miss Mandy with you?”
“No,” was the somewhat subdued reply, followed by their reassurance that they were “very careful”. I could actually feel the gray hair popping out all over my head.
I launched into a short but passionate tirade, reminding them that they had completely disregarded the neighborhood system of travel, had quite possibly lost my trust into their teen years, and would be going exactly nowhere for the foreseeable future. As I paused to take a breath (tirades require serious breath-control, and mine is not what it used to be), my oldest said in a tone of remonstration, “We told you the truth, and now we’re in trouble? That’s totally not fair!”
Thank goodness my kids possess that unique and wonderful ability to call out my actions when they smell a rat. It’s not an easy thing to submit myself to, but when I actually listen to their point of view, I gain such amazing insights about this Unschooling journey, and about the kind of family relationships I’m trying to nurture.
In this case, I realized that they were in all likelihood a hop, skip, and a jump from “that’s not fair” to “let’s not tell her”. And that’s just about the last thing I want to nurture. So instead of the year-long grounding I longed to impose (mainly to make myself feel safer), I chose a different path, one informed by my unschooling philosophy.
I talked to my kids about the possible dangers of where they had gone. I shared stories from my own family’s past – not all horrifying cautionary tales, but also stories of kids ending up just fine, except that they’d learned not to confide in their parents. What had begun as a hurricane of fury, fueled by my (very legitimate) fear, transformed into an opportunity for authentic discussion. They were sober and serious – they got that this was some pretty important stuff we were tackling. But in the end, they walked away from lunch un-grounded, un-punished….unschooled.
As for me? I’m so grateful that my kids trusted our relationship enough to tell me all about that hair-raising event. And I’m trusting that less punishing and more conversing will keep that trust strong enough to weather anything.
I’m going to the hairdresser’s tomorrow. Color, here I come.